fiction, photography

THE BOOKS IN THE BASEMENT

Chris R-1-63 Image by Christine Renney

The bookshop is busy and bright. Pushing against the throng Daniel moves toward the back of the store and down the rickety wooden staircase. Once below, he is able to breath again and, taking in the stale and musty but familiar aroma, he begins to relax. He finds making the short trip from the plate glass doors at the front of the shop to the basement so stressful. Daniel worries that he will be apprehended by one of the sales assistants, that they will demand to know what he is doing, why does he keep coming back and why does he spend so long down below?
Daniel has been coming to the bookshop every day for months now and he must have been noticed. But he hasn’t been stopped yet and no-one seems to care. And why should they? After all, the books in the basement have been forgotten and abandoned, left to molder and fade. And so why should he warrant more than a cursory glance and a fleeting thought.
Daniel is thankful for this. It means he is left alone to his own devices and he can read. It also means that at least some of the lost books will be rediscovered.

Daniel doesn’t have to worry about making the return trip for hours. He has a flask of coffee and sandwiches in his backpack and, if he wants, he can stay down here all day and quite often he does. Once settled on the old and cracked leather sofa in the far corner he loses track of time.

There are a lot of books in the basement. The shelving units run its entire length and the walkways are narrow, just wide enough for two people to pass each other sideways. But Daniel suspects that this has never been necessary, or at least not in years.
The shelves are tightly packed, mostly paperbacks and all have been read at least once. Most more than this judging by the creased spines and the dog-eared pages between the covers.
There are so many stories stored down here, so many ideas. It is an archive, an accidental one maybe, but an archive nonetheless.
Daniel wishes that he could reach all of the books but even if he were gifted an extra lifetime he knows he could not achieve it. But Daniel is determined to keep reading for as long as he is able, he is convinced that, eventually, someone will notice him, that someone will decide to care. After all, this is a bookshop and not a library and he is breaking the rules.

Occasionally others do venture into the basement and whenever Daniel hears someone on the creaking staircase he jumps up from the sofa. Although he is entirely hidden from view he tries to act nonchalantly, as if he is just another customer, casually browsing.
It is dank down here and poorly lit. No-one ever seems to venture more than a few metres into the basement. This time, however, he hears someone moving purposefully along one of the passages. Daniel is intrigued and, emboldened, he moves across until he sees her.
She is searching for a certain writer, maybe even a particular book but it isn’t there and Daniel sees the disappointment on her face.
Still she lingers, scanning the titles and occasionally reaching out and touching the books. Daniel moves closer but she doesn’t seem to be aware he is there and, turning, the woman stares right through him. And he realises that she doesn’t see him, that as far as she is concerned he isn’t there.
Staying with her, Daniel glides along the aisle until at last she works one of the books free and pulls it down. She studies the cover and flicks through it and, turning again, she doesn’t put it back. Daniel realises the woman is going to take it, that she is going to keep the book.

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fiction

THE TINIEST OF ERUPTIONS

chris-r-0089 Image by Christine Renney

When she was seventeen, Gemma designed a butterfly, sketching it with a biro on A4 sheets. Once satisfied with the shape, using her brother’s felt tip pens she added the colours. It had been garish but she had thought it beautiful, had taken her design to a tattooist and suffered under his needle.
Matching her colours as best he could, he reproduced the butterfly on the small of her back, but the colours had run and mixed to create, once the scabs had fallen away, something else entirely. Not her butterfly but a messy hybrid, a startled moth too close to the flame, mottled and drab.
For months, Gemma moped around in a baggy denim shirt. One night, naked in front of the mirror, turning she glanced back and noticed at the tattoo’s centre the tiniest of eruptions. Her skin was breaking through. She began to claw at it, believing the tattoo was flaking, but to no avail. It resisted her fingernails and although more of these holes would appear she could never find any evidence of this, other then when she turned to look in the mirror.

Gemma notices him noticing her and so they begin to play at that game. He is one of a group of young pups, eagerly lapping at their beer. Although early, already they are restless. He is the least jittery, less inclined to spin around after his tail. She notes all of this and smiles. If he is going to make a move he needs to do it quickly. It’s been a long week and she is tired. Still dressed in her office clothes, prim black skirt and white blouse, Gemma isn’t feeling at her best. She orders another drink; he has until it is drunk.

He becomes insistent. She agrees to go back with him to his room. Her flat is too far and his place is just around the corner.
‘It will,’ he says, ‘be better, easier.’
Outside they push against the tide of revellers. Once clear, he moves ahead and she trips along behind, struggling to keep up. He ushers her into the kitchen and switches on the light. A moth flutters noisily as the fluorescent tube stutters, bursting into life. The linoleum is split, the colours and pattern almost worn away. There is a dirty cup on the draining board and in the harsh light she can see a hairline crack.
Impatient, he holds the door open at the end of the hallway. She is first into his room. When she turns he has already kicked off his trainers, is wrestling with his jeans and boxer shorts. Pulling his t-shirt over his head he emerges, surprised to find her still fully clothed. They haven’t spoken since leaving the bar.
‘I suspect,’ she says, ‘that we won’t be sharing a cigarette when we’re finished here.’
‘I don’t smoke,’ he replies.
‘I don’t either.’
He stares blankly as Gemma unbuttons and removes her blouse. She turns, looking for somewhere to hang it.
‘What’s that on your back?’
She faces him, still holding the blouse. ‘The kitchen here, doesn’t it depress you?’
He is stalled for a second. ‘Come on, let me see.’ He starts to walk around her.
‘What am I, prey?’
‘Man, that is the weirdest tattoo.’
Gemma turns again and studies him, running her eyes up and down. Suddenly, he is very aware of his own nakedness. He glances at his clothes, discarded on the floor. She thrusts her hand out and he takes the blouse, grasping it to his groin.
‘Honestly, the kitchen. Don’t you find it depressing?’
‘No, why would I?’
‘Why wouldn’t you?’
‘What do you want me to say?’
‘Astound me. Buckle my knees with your wit and wisdom.’
‘I think you should go.’
She holds out her hand. Flinching, he backs up.
‘My blouse?’
‘Oh.’
He hands it to her. Turning her back toward him, Gemma puts it on, breathing in the silence. Taking her time, she doesn’t look back and, avoiding the kitchen, she leaves by the front door.

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